To get a get a good visual image of the impact the protest is having on the city check out here
On the eve of China Day I wanted to reflect on the events in Hong Kong since Sunday. I am not sure how the events here have been publicised in the country you are in, they seem to be a mixed bag of information and opinion.
On the ground, I wanted to report that the response is also mixed here. There has been a great sense of pride and gratitude towards those holding their exemplary peaceful protest. All that the Hong Kong people protesting want, is to be heard and acknowledged. They believe that they have been promised something that has not been delivered. Occupy Central is not a new idea for us here; it is a movement that has been gathering pace for a long time. Universal suffrage (Hong Kong currently has a Chief Executive that is appointed by China ‘puppets’ and currently we are able to vote for our representatives however they are also only from a pool of people hand picked again from China) is something that Hong Kong has been requesting for longer than sunday.
When Hong Kong was a British colony, it was not unlike the current arrangement. Our Governor was appointed by the British Government – however anyone could and did run for government posts. When the country was given back to China’s ruling it was under the understanding that it would be one country, two systems. As China was a very different place then as it is now (travel was restricted and it was still a very strict communist rule) most were very worried about the lack of civil liberties which may be thrust upon us. It was agreed that there would be no major changes for 50 years.
Hong Kong people over the years have exercised the right to protest and most importantly we have enjoyed our freedom of speech and thought, something which has remained since the handover. There have been several pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the last few years. There have also been Tiananmen Sq remembrances every year. Although the newspapers here have changed and appear more China biased in their reporting and I have not watched the local news channels for a long time- it still felt like for the most part Hong Kong’s one country two systems was working. Monday was the most censored day in China since Tiananmen Sq remembrances as reported by the FP. There have even been reports that the gathering is in preparation to celebrate China Day.
Hong Kong is rich in its diversity- even when it was under British rule is was not a jot like Britain! I discovered this when I moved there for university (read about my experiences as an expat in my ‘own country‘). Coming back to Hong Kong with my young family was exciting for me and I relished the chance to give my own children a taste of the amazing childhood I experienced living here. Hong Kong is completely unique in its size, combination of nature and structure, its business opportunities, its successful merging of east and west and it dynamic and exciting vibe. The number of people living here has grown over the years and the impact of the travelling mainland chinese has had positive and negative consequences for Hong Kong. A couple of years ago when the Government announced a surplus in the budget (what other country has ever announced a budget surplus) they decided to give every permanent resident an amount of money. It wasn’t a huge sum to many (about the amount of the air ticket from the uk to Hong Kong for me to pick it up) but very cool all the same. Untouched by the global economic downturn over the recent years Hong Kong is, for the most part, thriving. This is largely to do with the huge cash injection from the mainland chinese coming and buying ‘all the things’!!
Stories of mainlanders coming over with suitcases of money to buy flats and designer goods are mixed between them buying up all the baby formula (which led to restrictions on weight of suitcases allowed over the border). Distrust in goods coming from China has encouraged the mass travel of newly rich chinese people from Mainland China to Hong Kong and around the world. Everybody is clambering over one another to sell them something. So much so that the fear is that this protest may somehow stop that generous flow of cash. This is the main opposing argument and I have heard all sorts of people saying this.
I have heard many complain about the ‘inconvenience’ caused by the protesters, talk about the protest being ‘bad for business’ for Hong Kong. That it will increase people’s (well China’s) desire to move Hong Kong to Shanghai – thus effectively ‘killing’ Hong Kong’s unique nature and economy. Hong Kong is actually fighting for their economic future (as seen in Time). Lets face it- its only money. I would rather have a country I can say what I want, read what I want and have freedom of commerce and thought. I also prefer a country where people pitch in together for the good of the whole country. A country that is truly rich in culture, diversity and community spirit. Something the protesters are teaching us all with their recycling while they protest, organisation of their resources and peaceful yet direct attitudes whilst spending down time to study! There is no other place in the world that has a 3 day protest without any shops broken into and looted, all the cars etc are safe, it’s safe to take your kids to go see and is clean and tidy with space for pedestrians to walk through.
The influx of Mainland Chinese money has meant a huge increase in house prices, rental prices and every shopping mall is full (there are so many shopping malls in Hong Kong!) of people and designer stores. All of the mid range stores are being pushed out and it is getting more and more expensive to live here. It seems incredulous the amount of money that just keeps pouring in and young residents are finding it impossible to keep up. Getting on the property ladder means that you need a 50% deposit on flats a little larger than a cupboard for upwards of HKD$2 million – that is before it is even finished being built, by the time it is built it can be double that in some cases. It is not on our radar to be able to buy anything here and even schooling is proving to be more and more out of reach. Local schooling is subsidised but the system of schooling here is more rigid and full on (3 year olds have homework and there are exams all through primary schools) than I want to put my kids through so we are having to pay through the nose for schooling. However I have never been in a country with lower unemployment and strong work ethos. There is a big divide between those who literally live in cages and those who live in sprawling mansions on the peak. That divide is only getting wider. This is something experienced in the global community and you can’t help thinking ‘somehow this has got to end somewhere?!’
There was even cases a couple of years ago where Hong Kong residents could not get into local hospitals because they were full of heavily pregnant mainland women coming over to go into labour so their children could be born here and have rights to schooling etc. All of this has frightened and angered local residents. The future is uncertain and they are saying something about it. They are saying no. They are saying we want something different and I quite frankly support their right to do so.
The protests themselves have had mixed receptions. Scheduled to actually be on tomorrow I think some of the excess of the response was from the excitement and fear of it all starting early. It has been called a riot and indeed the police were in their riot gear. I have heard people complain and want a refund because their childrens schools in the district closed, that their shop/business has suffered because of the protest route, people fearful to go into town or that they cannot continue their lives as normal. I find it unbelievable that people would be so unbelievable. It is a landmark event for Hong Kong and a really good reason. But I guess there are always haters who are gonna hate and moaners gonna moan!
To the point where there is the video of students constucting anti-tear gas masks from water bottles and sugical masks. Which is both sad and genius at the same time. However there have been no breakages or violence- they simply wouldn’t leave. People are joining them in their droves. Bringing supplies (they are asking for water, raincoats, goggles and facemasks incase there is more tear gas and pepper spray, empty spray bottles and cool towels and gel packs to try and help people cool down and cable ties to help secure the boundaries), even bringing food and bbq’s and coming in to show their support. I brought water and apples today! There are yellow ribbons being given out to wear and to tie around railings and lampposts around Hong Kong. People are smiling at each other and generally showing kindness and solidarity. Its amazing to witness.
Please keep sharing your positive experiences. I keep hearing “I admire the protestors but its not going to change anything”- Who knows. I for one have a renewed sense of faith in my beloved home town. I have hope for the future in Hong Kong and I feel a sense of incredible pride and goodwill towards my fellow Kongers. If you want please check out this Petition and share hopeful sentiments about our future. The youth coming through seem pretty cool and incredibly inspiring- so Anything is Possible!
as an update- on tuesday night (the night this was written) it rained and someone took this extraordinary picture!
Good Reports with images;
and our own South China Morning Post
If you recognise one of your pictures I have tried to credit everyone- if you would like me to change the credit please let me know!